Football World Cup: Bierhoff batters unlucky Mexico

Germany 2 Klinsmann 75, Bierhoff 86 Mexico 1 Hernandez 47 Att: 30,000
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WHEN THE going gets tough, according to the World Cup's conventional wisdom, the Germans get going. For the 27 minutes that Mexico led them on a sweltering afternoon yesterday, the only place they looked like going was home, humbled by one of the tournament's traditional makeweights without so much as reaching the quarter-finals.

The Mexicans had gone ahead shortly after half-time with a goal by their blond striker, Luis Hernandez, who then squandered an opportunity to double the advantage. Like so many teams before them, they were to find that failure to finish off Germany tends to be fatal.

Jurgen Klinsmann, previously ineffective in another substandard German performance, equalised with barely a quarter of an hour left. Mexico were denied even the satisfaction of taking the European champions to extra time when Oliver Bierhoff, having earlier perpetrated one of the misses of the tournament, atoned with their 86th-minute reward for what Klinsmann called Germany's "fighting spirit".

Instead of returning to a barrage of criticism about his creaking team, Berti Vogts can now prepare for Saturday's quarter-final in Lyons. On the evidence so far, the inquest may merely have been delayed, although Bierhoff's imitation of Gerd Muller could yet take them further.

Germany had not fallen in the second round since 1938, also in France, but a faltering first-half display raised the spectre of their exit against Bulgaria four years ago. When the sides lined up for the anthems, Mexico were smaller, almost to a man. However, their mobility and willingness to shoot on sight compensated amply.

Word of Andreas Kopke's vulnerability - which was again pronounced - had clearly reached the Mexican camp. When a 40-yard volley by Marcelino Bernal was spilled by the German keeper, Christian Worns hurriedly hacked the ball to safety.

Germany's attacks were ponderous by comparision. The ball was frequently lofted in high, in the hope that Bierhoff or Klinsmann might make their height tell, but without the legendary Teutonic precision. Lothar Matthaus showed what was required with a chipped pass, only for Klinsmann's header to be saved by Jorge Campos.

Thomas Hassler followed the veteran libero's lead with a fine cross on the run six minutes before half-time. Bierhoff, unchallenged, headed against the underside of the bar and it needed no Russian linesman to rule that the ball had not crossed the line.

Mexico shocked Germany, and possibly themselves, by opening the scoring for the first time in the competition 90 seconds into the second half. A clever pass by Cuauhtemoc Blanco gave Hernandez space in a congested penalty area. As Worns lunged across, he placed his shot coolly out of Kopke's reach.

Hernandez, who had a short-lived spell last year with Diego Maradona's old club, Boca Juniors, had the chance for immortality in the 62nd minute. A wretched pass by Markus Babbel was intercepted by Jesus Arellano, who drove at the heart of the defence. In attempting to clear, Michael Tarnat succeeded only in turning the ball back towards his own goal.

At full stretch, Kopke touched it on to a post, but the danger was not over. Blanco crossed the loose ball to Hernandez, who was lurking in the six-yard box. To Mexican despair, their leading scorer found only the hands of the grateful keeper.

Dietmar Hamann's hopeful punt into the Mexican area led to Germany drawing level in the 74th minute. Raul Lara miscontrolled a ball he would have expected to trap 99 times out of 100, and Klinsmann pounced for his third goal of the finals.

Vogts had freshened up his team with two second-half substitutes. A cross by the second, Ulf Kirsten, created the opening for the decisive blow. Bierhoff, rising above the unfortunate Lara, headed his own third in four matches. Mexico were distraught. Germany's relief was embarrassing to behold.

GERMANY (1-2-4-1-2): Kopke (Marseilles); Matthaus (Bayern Munich), Worns (Bayer Leverkusen); Babbel (Bayern Munich); Heinrich (Borussia Dortmund), Hamann, Helmer, Tarnat (all Bayern Munich); Hassler (Karlsruhe); Bierhoff (Udinese); Klinsmann (Tottenham). Substitutes: Ziege (Milan) for Helmer, 37; Moller (Borussia Dortmund) for Heinrich, 58; Kirsten (Bayer Leverkusen) for Hassler, 74.

MEXICO (5-3-2): Campos (UNAM Pumas); Pardo (Atlas), Lara (America), Suarez (Guadalajara), Davino, Villa (both America); Palencia (Cruz Azul), Bernal (Monterrey), Garcia Aspe (America), Hernandez, Blanco (both Necaxa). Substitutes: Carmona (Toluca) for Bernal, h-t; Arellano (Guadalajara) for Palencia, 53; Pelaez (America) for Garcia Aspe, 87.

Referee: M Melo-Pereira (Portugal).